Article from

Notes from workshop given to the London NLP Practice Group in 1992

The Value of Values

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley

There are three parts to these notes:

1. An overview of the concepts
2. The steps of the procedure
3. A values elicitation format for you to complete

Values are words which embody what is important to us. They are complex and intangible higher-level functions and are intimately linked to our beliefs about what is good and bad, right and wrong.  Our values guide our every decision and the satisfaction or violation of them can produce strong emotional reactions. They can be defined as:

“Values are stable constructs from which belief systems are generated. The rule of thumb is values can be expressed in 1 to 3 words. Beliefs need a full sentence.  Attitudes tend to need a paragraph.” Douglas Pride

We can have moving towards values which, when satisfied, bring us pleasure and moving away from values which attempt to keep us from feeling pain.


Not Failing                                         Being Successful
Ill-health                                           Good Health
Too Much Change                               Security
Not Feeling Trapped                            Freedom of Choice

When we are operating out of our highest values we experience congruence and a sense of satisfaction.  We like people who share our values and often have strong reactions to people who don’t.

When we experience conflicting values it creates a dilemma and incongruence.  Values can conflict at the same time (ie. simultaneously “should I do this or should I do that”) or over time (ie. sequentially “I know I really shouldn’t have done it”).  Arguments and disagreements are almost always associated with people having conflicting values.

While our values are usually out of our awareness we constantly express them through our language and indicating which are the most important through our behaviour.  The simplest way to discover someone's values is to ask:

    •    What is important to you about [topic]?
    •    What do you want in/out of [topic]?
    •    What would having [topic] do for you?

When someone expresses an important value, that word will represent a whole set of experiences and emotions. Therefore it is important that you honour that person’s experience by using their exact value words. If they say ‘honesty’ then be respectful by using their word ‘honesty’ rather than ‘openness’ or ‘trustworthy’ even if it means the same thing to you.

Our values can change when we commit to new outcomes, make decisions to live to a higher standard, and when we change our self-image.

Who Rules the Roost?

While values have an intangible quality to them, the rules* by which they get satisfied or violated are often very tangible! If you want ‘reliability’ in a postal service, does that mean that if just one letter goes astray they are unreliable or if the odd letter goes missing who cares?

“Rules are your beliefs about what has to happen in order
 for you to feel good (or bad) about an experience”    Anthony Robbins

Rules are not about ‘reality’, they are about our experience of reality - and everyone’s experience is different. This is why you cannot assume you know what will satisfy someone else’s values.  You may think staying late shows dedication, they may think dedication is getting their work done by five o’clock.

You can identify your own rules (or someone else’s) by asking:

•    What has to happen for you to experience/feel [value word]?
•    How do you know when [value word] is satisfied?
•    How would you decide if X were [value word]?

Rules are not necessarily logical, they are emotional!

Therefore they are not to be argued with. Rather than attempt to change them by rational persuasion it more productive to influence a person’s rules by changing what they mean. This is called Reframing.

Rules can either disempower or empower us. Here’s how:

DISEMPOWERING                            EMPOWERING   
RULES ARE:                                    RULES ARE:

• Impossible to achieve                    • Achievable
• Complex                                      • Simple
• Dependent on many things            • Independent of other rules
• Outside our control                       • Within our power/remit
• Place/time/people dependent         • Can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone
e.g.    I’ll feel job satisfaction:

When I’m promoted and have a            Whenever I achieve a daily goal   
pay rise and I’m employee of the          or I get positive feedback or I learn
year and my ‘in-tray’ is empty and ...    something new or ...


* Rules were originally known as 'behavioural or complex equivalents' in NLP.

Much of this article was adapted from Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within (Simon & Schuster, 1992)

Accepting the Self
Establishing Values through NLP

“Many people know what they want to have - few what they want to be.”
Remember – it is our values that keep us in the present.

1.    Ask yourself this question:

“What is most important about who I am?”

    Try to keep your answers as brief as possible, ideally to one or a few words.

2.    Then prioritise your answers in order from 1 (highest) to whatever. This might give a list as  follows:

No. 1    Being one with the universe
No. 2    Being honest
No. 3    Being loved
No. 4    Being with friends
No. 5    Having integrity
No. 6    Helping others

The Squirm Question:

3.    Ask yourself the question:

“If I could have Priority answer No. 1, but NOT HAVE No. 2, would that be ok?

4.    If the answer is YES, then you have that order right, but if NO, then swap the priority in your hierarchy around, making No. 2 into No. 1. Carry on asking questions accordingly, i.e. if I could have answer No. 1, BUT NOT No. 3, would that be OK? Then repeat with No. 2 until that value has been compared to all the values below it. Then value No. 3 with those below, etc. etc.

5.    You may find that you have some difficulty in doing this exercise, and that you really have to take time to think about the answers to some of the squirm questions. This could be important information to you – notice how you feel about it, and what it is that causes the difficulty.

6.    Incidentally this type of questioning (what is most important to me - A or B) can be applied to any aspects of your life – or whole series of aspects!

Are there any conflicts in your priorities?

7.  In addition, you may be surprised to find out that values that you thought were important to you are not actually as high up on your list as you thought that they were, e.g. you may say 'Helping Others' is important to you, and often felt vaguely guilty that you did not do more charity work. On doing this exercise, you may have found that in fact it was not as high on your list as 'Being with Friends' – hence the lack of charity work. There is a conflict between your espoused values and your lived values, and you will need to work this out.

8.    There are differences between an “ends” value and a “means” value. An “ends” value is an ultimate state or goal (such as being happy or fulfilled) whilst a “means” value (e.g. having money or security) are the ways of getting to an end value. Problems happen if “means” type values are above “ends” values in your hierarchy – because you will never get to your ends.

9.    If you are working towards one value, you may be moving away from another, e.g.

- being a free and independent spirit
- having a secure committed relationship.

Such apparent inconsistencies will cause internal conflict.

10.    Do you have a balance between ‘self’ orientated values (e.g. being happy) and ‘other’ orientated values (e.g. helping others)? Some values involve both, e.g. raising a family  although at times it might be easy to forget the self aspect in this one!

11.    Some values can cause a double-bind or paradox. A value of “accepting myself just the way I am” might cause confusion and conflict when you are physically unwell.

12.    As a general rule, the higher up the hierarchy a value is, the more abstract it is likely to be. If this is not the case, and your highest priority is “Being a Company Executive” or “Having a successful business” – how are you going to feel if you get the sack or your company goes bankrupt? Clearly, you will be opening yourself up to a great deal of pain.

A few more questions to think about:

Think about your list, and ask yourself the following questions:

13.    What do my values need to be in order to be aligned with who I am?

14.    Do I need to add any other values to the list - or eliminate any?

15.    What do my values need to be in order that I can be all that I can be?

16.    What benefits do I get from having this particular value in this position in my value hierarchy?

Establishing your rules

17.    Ask yourself the following question about your values -

“What has to happen in order for me to feel value No. 1?

18.     For example, if value No. 1 is “peacefulness”, your rules for getting this could be:

My wife must not be in a bad mood.
I must have had a good day at work.
I must have a good evening meal.
The children must be behaving well.
There must be something decent on TV.

19.    Now think – how easy is it to actually satisfy your rules and get what you want? In the above case, to simultaneously satisfy all those rules might be a near impossibility, and so “peacefulness” can never be achieved.

20.    Are your Rules simple? How many of them (per value) have you got? Do any of them conflict?

21.    Are the values in your life still appropriate for who you have become? You may be carrying a value from your past/parents/previous circumstances that are no longer of any use or benefit to you. Be open to question the usefulness of your values, and if a value no longer has a benefit, get rid of it or replace it with a more useful value instead.

22.    Do you have numerous ways to truly feel good – the more you have, the happier you will be.

23.    Is it possible for you to meet your rules in many different situations and circumstances – if so, you will have may more chances to feel satisfied.

24.    Identify any new ways or better rules that you can use instead of the ones that you have identified, in order to give you more chance for happiness.

25.    So, the aim is make your rules framed in the positive, e.g.

“Whenever I ... see a bird ... then I will feel part of the universe.”
“Whenever I ... am in my home ... then I will be at peace.”


26.    Write out your values and your rules and stick them up around your home, where your conscious or sub-conscious will constantly pick them up.

27.    Tell other people what they are.

28.    If a rule isn’t working - CHANGE IT!

29.    Do not expect others to abide by your rules and values if they do not know what your rules and values are.

30.    NOTICE and KEEP ON NOTICING the changes to you and your life that come from knowing what your values and rules are.

31.    If you have an upset with someone because of a value or a rule, ask yourself this question:

“What is most important - the relationship or the rule?”

32.    SIMPLIFY and continue to simplify your rules.


What is important to you                              What has to happen for you to
about.......................... ?                            experience [VALUE] ?

VALUES                                                      RULES










What is important to you                              What has to happen for you to             about.......................... ?                            experience [VALUE] ?

VALUES                                                      ENHANCED RULES








Penny and James are supervising neurolinguistic psychotherapists – registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy since 1993 – coaches in business, certified NLP trainers, and founders of The Developing Company.

They have provided consultancy to organisations as diverse as GlaxoSmithKline, Yale University Child Study Center, NASA Goddard Space Center and the Findhorn Spiritual Community in Northern Scotland.

Their book,
Metaphors in Mind
was the first comprehensive guide to Symbolic Modelling using the Clean Language of David Grove. An annotated training DVD, A Strange and Strong Sensation demonstrates their work in a live session. They have published over 200 articles and blogs freely available on their website:

All information on this web site (unless otherwise stated) is Copyright © 1997- Penny Tompkins and James Lawley of The Developing Company. All rights reserved. You may reproduce and disseminate any of our copyrighted information for personal use only providing the original source is clearly identified. If you wish to use the material for any other reason, please get in touch via our Contact Form